33 thoughts on “Port Clarence branch line railway bridges

  1. Prior to the building of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge the eastern end of the Clarence Railway linked up with a ferry boat that crossed the river Tees between Port Clarence railway station and Middlesbrough. For many years there was no road or adequate public footpath between Haverton Hill and Port Clarence and as a result the railway line was used as a footpath by people from the ferry boat landing. On the evening of 5 February 1859 this led to two fatal accidents on the line.
    At about 6 PM a Doctor Mordue and a Captain Campbell, who both resided at Middlesbrough, were walking down the line between Haverton Hill and the ferry boat landing when they were knocked down by a steam engine. Doctor Mordue had one of his legs cut off below the knee and Captain Campbell was thrown a great distance receiving fractures to both legs. Doctor Mordue succumbed to his injuries two hours later. The eventual fate of Captain Campbell was not recorded.
    Then at 8 PM a shoe maker named Eutychus Walton was run over near the half-way houses at Haverton Hill by the passenger coach which ran between the ferry boat landing and Billingham railway station. Walton was intoxicated at the time and was returning from Middlesbrough where he had visited his estranged wife. Both of Waltons legs were fractured (one to the extent that it faced his head) as well as his right arm. These injuries proved fatal. What made this accident more unusual was that the passenger coach was drawn by a horse. The accident may seem a case of negligence on the part of the coach driver but it would have been dark at this time and there was very little lighting in the district, probably none at all on the rail line. The only light available to the driver would have been the dim glow of an oil lantern. Walton was most likely laid across the line as the coach approached.
    Until 1860 the passenger service on the Clarence Railway between Billingham and Port Clarence was pulled by a single horse (probably for economic reasons). The passenger service from Billingham to Stockton and beyond was run using steam engines. The steam engines using the Port Clarence Branch line prior to 1860 would have been mineral trains taking coal and limestone to Bell Brother’s Clarence Iron Works.

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  2. Martin… a really great piece of investigation. Even the steam engines of the time were not very powerful, and needed easy gradients, as they used single flue boilers, having to stop every few miles to build up steam. Furthermore, does Picture Stockton have any pictures of the embankments at Billingham Beck and Norton?

    All I would would add is that I would like to write a short piece for the Newcomen Society Western Courier internet magazine with due acknowledgements, if that is okay with Martin and jmayuk and Picture Stockton.

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    • Hello Fred, feel free to use any of the information I have included in my posts I don’t believe I’ve infringed any copyrights as most of my source material is over one hundred years old. The latest source I have used is an excellent book titled The North Eastern Railway; it’s rise and development by William Weaver Tomlinson. Published in 1915. If you go onto the Wikipedia page for the Clarence Railway it gives you a link to the Internet Archive, where you can read or download a copy of the book for free. The book includes a picture of the coal drops at Port Clarence.
      It would be nice to see the history of the Port Clarence Branch Line spread to a wider audience. Although it is pre-dated by it’s more famous neighbour (The Stockton & Darlington Railway) as far as I can ascertain the former Clarence Railway, from Stockton to Port Clarence, still follows the original route. Whereas the remains of the Stockton & Darlington Railway follow a different course to the original between Eaglescliffe and Stockton. Sadly after nearly 190 years the Port Clarence Branch line’s existence may be in jeopardy. It is supposedly mothballed and with future maintenance costs a factor will probably end up being dismantled.
      Incidentally the section of earthworks at Norton Toll Bar was I believe a cut (Russell’s Cut) rather than an embankment.

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    • Hi Fred,
      sure go ahead, no acknowledgement required. 🙂

      I would guess the Billingham Beck embankment is a difficult thing to photograph as it’s mostly obscured by trees. The BFA site has a few images that include it but they are all taken from a direction that is in line with the embankment rather than side on, so they don’t really give a good view of it.
      https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW024090
      https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW024101
      https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW024102

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  3. After further research I have discovered the embankments were needed due to the topography of the district and the required gradient of the railway line. The average gradient of the line from Simpasture to Port Clarence is 1 in 270. The Stockton Branch has a fall to the Tees of 1 in 209. The vast amount of work undertaken in constructing embankments and cuts to create these gradients was due to the requirement for horses to be able to pull empty wagons back along the line. At this time locomotive engines were few in number and unreliable.
    The construction of the section between Haverton Hill and Samphire Batts (Port Clarence) was not the biggest undertaking though. The Norton Toll Gate cutting involved 400,000 cubic yards of earthworks and the embankment at Billingham Beck was 50 feet in height. The embankment originally built between Billingham and Samphire Batts in 1834 proved defective and was raised and widened by 1835.

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  4. Many thanks to both of you about the bridge and the embankment, especially to Martin, who confirmed one of my guesses. In this respect, back in 2018, on the first morning of the Newcomen Society’s Summer visit to Teesside, we went to Hartlepool and then to the Billingham Branch Bridge.

    As we came back from Hartlepool, on the coach we had hired, being the only local man, I began to tell our members what historical sights we were passing. Hardly any of them had been to Teesside, except Ed Marshall, of BP, who had done some oil rig training on the salt wells at Haverton.

    As the coach came along the Haverton Hill Road and the embankment, it was an opportunity to talk about the almost forgotten Clarence Railway. I highlighted the courage of those early pioneers in building such a huge embankment, but to be honest I was not sure whether this was a later addition. So I am more than relieved to find I wasn’t passing on phoney info.

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  5. Thanks very much JMayuk. I did wonder about the safety of a cast iron bridge, given the weight of “modern” steam locomotives.
    But I would still like to know when the embankment was made.

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    • Hello Fred. The rail embankment was part of the original construction of the Clarence Railway. It was necessary especially on the section between Haverton Hill and Port Clarence as at this point in the 1830’s the railway ran along the edge of the river Tees. The land in this district was marshes prone to flooding at high tides. The river Tees and the surrounding landscape was radically different to what we see today.
      The map of the district from 1856 shows the village of Haverton Hill situated on a bend in the river which had a large shoal that was exposed at low tide. Here there was a break in the rail embankment heading towards Port Clarence. This was crossed by a railway viaduct. I believe this was a wooden viaduct but information is sparse. At some point in the 1860’s the Tees Conservancy Commissioners reclaimed land on the north bank of the river Tees between Haverton Hill and Port Clarence and the viaduct was replaced by an extension of the existing embankment and a brick railway bridge (later replaced by the one in the lower photograph).
      The reclaimed land where the viaduct was situated is roughly where the Furness shipyard would be built.

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  6. A couple of questions for Martin
    The pattern on the flange of the top bridge suggests that this is made of cast iron. If so it must be very ancient

    Was the embankment that runs along the main road in Haverton Hill built when the original Clarence Railway was constructed?

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    • Hi Fred, I know I’m not Martin but… if you look at the bridge in the first photo on Google Streetview, you can see that the other side of it doesn’t have that pattern. I would guess its just patterned on that side because that’s where the manufacturer’s nameplate is mounted. Details report that both bridges were built in 1922 and are made of riveted steel.

      (top picture)
      Asset Name: Haverton Hill Road (ID: POC1/9)
      Asset Type: Bridge- – -Sub-type: Underline Bridge
      Operational Status: Functionary
      Primary Material: RBE – Steel
      Structure Form: Troughing
      Construction Details: Troughing
      Listed Structure: No- – -No. of Components: 1
      Constructed: 1922
      http://www.railwaydata.co.uk/bridges/overview/?ELR=POC1&RID=9

      (bottom picture)
      Asset Name: Haverton Hill Rd (a1046) (ID: POC1/6)
      Asset Type: Bridge- – -Sub-type: Underline Bridge
      Operational Status: Functionary
      Primary Material: RBE – Steel
      Structure Form: Riveted
      Construction Details: Riveted
      Listed Structure: No- – -No. of Components: 1
      Constructed: 1922
      http://www.railwaydata.co.uk/bridges/overview/?ELR=POC1&RID=6

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    • Hello Fred and JMay, thank you for starting a discussion about these bridges. Source information on the Port Clarence Branch Railway is hard to find and any contributions are gratefully received. Most of the information I have contributed is taken from old newspapers. I’m not an engineer or a metallurgist so I hope my comments are used to assist in any future research but not to be taken as totally definitive.
      Today I visited the bridge in the top photo (POC 1/9). Fred is correct the side of the bridge not in this photo does not have the pattern of the depicted side, there is however a reason to this. The girder forming the side of the bridge not visible was manufactured by the Lanarkshire Steel Company of Motherwell (name is impressed on the steel). The girder on the visible side has a damaged manufacturers name plate which I believe could read Close Burlinson Engineers Sunderland. From an inspection of the underside of the bridge the Lanarkshire Steel Company girder appears to be an addition to the bridge to increase its width. The rest of the bridge is mounted on coping stones on top of brick piers. The Lanarkshire Steel company girder is set upon a series of bricks which are four courses higher than the coping stones. I don’t know if this addition dates to 1922 when the bridge was possibly rebuilt.
      On viewing the bridge today it left me puzzled as to why if this bridge was rebuilt in 1922, of riveted steel, the side of the bridge visible in the photo has a name plate from a manufacturer whose partnership was dissolved in 1869 and their works taken over by Oswald Engineers and Shipbuilders in the same year. The girder also appears to be fastened with bolts. Would it have the ornate design if it was a rolled steel girder? The view of the bridge’s underside confirms it is of a riveted construction but I do not know if it is steel or cast iron. Perhaps the the girder on the visible side is a remnant of the bridge constructed around 1869. But why would the builder of 1922 leave some other companies name plate on the bridge?
      In answer to Fred’s second question I believe the original railway was constructed on an embankment but I’m unable to confirm if the present day embankment has been altered. The Durham Chronicle, 20 March 1841, featured an advertisement from Mr child, Clarence Railway Office, Stockton-On-Tees asking for tenders to supply 4,500 larch sleepers (8 feet long by 7 inches diameter). These were asked to be delivered to the embankment of the Clarence Railway at Port Clarence.
      My information as with the information from other websites may unknowingly contain errors which will subsequently need to be corrected. The visual inspection I made of the bridge was from the perspective of someone who has a great interest in industrial archaeology but is not a bridge inspector. Hopefully as more information accumulates on the Port Clarence Branch Railway the mysteries of this bridge (POC1/9) will be explained

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      • Hi Martin, same here just an amateur with an interest 🙂
        From modern satellite images, and looking at Streetview again, it is now obvious that bridge POC1/9 has been modified since it was built. But rather than being widened, it looks to have been narrowed and realigned, with the rolled steel beam being added as part of the modifications. The previous bridge deck was the full width of the abutment walls (I guess they wouldn’t build them that width for no reason!) and was wide enough to carry 4 parallel tracks, as shown in these 1950 images:
        https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW032484
        https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW032476
        After modification, the edges of the deck were no longer parallel (see satellite photos, or count the exposed coping stones 🙂 ). Using the posted photo as a reference, the right hand side of the deck is wider than the left. I guess, after being rebuilt in 1922, it was modified sometime after 1950, with the steel beam added to allow for the new alignment of the track, while narrowing the overall width of the deck. It looks like it carried two lines for a while, they were diverging at this point which helps explain the current shape.

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  7. The Port Clarence Branch gave rise to two additional lines, both of which it outlived.
    In an ambitious plan to open up reclaimed land on the north bank of the river Tees, between Portrack and Greatham Creek, to new industries the Tees Conservancy Commissioners formed an agreement with the North Eastern Railway Company to build a railway line to link Stockton, Haverton Hill and Port Clarence.The line would run from the North Shore Branch at Stockton to Port Clarence via Portrack and Billingham Beck. The line would become known as the Billingham Beck Branch Line.
    The Tees Conservancy Commissioners had proposed the line in 1873 but it was not until June 1899 that Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell cut the first sod to mark the beginning of the railways construction. The railway was paid for by the North Eastern Railway Company and constructed by T D Riley & Sons, Middlesbrough. The first stage was a railway branching off from the Port Clarence Branch Railway west of the Haverton Hill rail station. This was carried on westward, parallel to the river, to a point at Billingham Beck where it terminated. The intention was that Stockton Corporation would then arrange construction of a line from Stockton North Shore to the corporation boundary at Portrack where the two lines would join up.
    The line from Haverton Hill to Billingham Beck was completed in 1901, But by 1903 there had been no construction on the Stockton section. At this time the North Eastern Railway Company was having second thoughts on furthering the line. It stated that material prices had risen and there had been little traffic since the line opened, it being mainly used for standage. The Tees commissioners threatened to oppose future railway bills the North Eastern Railway Company put before parliament unless they completed the line. An agreement was reached whereby the company would complete the line within the next ten years. It was not until 1914 that work commenced on the Stockton section. In 1914 war broke out and the line was further delayed. Finally in 1920 the completed Billingham Beck Branch was opened.
    The other part, of what was a one point touted as the Teesside Railway, was a section which ran from the eastern side of Port Clarence rail station and turned in a northern direction eventually terminating in a field near Greatham Creek. The thinking behind this line was that it would encourage further industries, including shipbuilding on Greatham Creek, to use the land the Tees Conservancy Commissioners had reclaimed from the tidal marshes. At a later date it was also hoped that a bridge would be built across Greatham Creek and the line would carry on to Seaton station and thus link with West Hartlepool.
    Unfortunately the hoped for industrial growth was insufficient and what did arrive mainly used the land around Haverton Hill. Today both the Billingham Beck and Greatham Creek lines are partially or totally dismantled..

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    • The construction of the railway from Haverton Hill to Billingham Beck was carried out by T D Ridley (not Riley). The company also constructed a road from Haverton Hill to Billingham Beck, which ran adjacent to the railway. This road was completed by 1901 but was not linked to Stockton until 1903.

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  8. Middlesbrough Corporation put in applications to the 1919 Parliamentary Sessions for a variety of schemes to build tramways and run motor omnibus services outside their borough. Among these applications were schemes for the Haverton Hill Road. They applied to build a double tramway along the Haverton Hill Road as far as Portrack and to replace the bridge which carried the North Eastern Railways Port Clarence Branch line over the Haverton Hill Road. The plan was to was to substitute the present narrow brick arch bridge with a wider single span girder bridge. I don’t know if this scheme was carried out.
    In December 1922 Stockton Council put in a report to receive government funding to widen the Haverton Hill Road. This was to be an Unemployment Relief Scheme. As a result of one or both of these schemes the bridge in the photograph was installed.

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  9. The Port Clarence Branch Line has not always been considered a dead end line. Bell Brothers at the height of their industrial power hoped to create a new Middlesbrough on the northern bank of the river Tees around their Clarence Iron Works. The potential for for future industry in this district would appeal to others.
    In 1873 the North Eastern Railway Company made an application to parliament for a new railway to link the north side of the river with Middlesbrough via a tunnel under the river Tees. The proposal was to commence a tunnel 90 yards west of the Port Clarence railway station and emerge on the Middlesbrough side at a point near the Normanby jetty. This would then link up with the NER’s Middlesbrough to Redcar railway line, eventually linking with the Cleveland ironstone district. The tunnel never came to fruition but as yet I have not been able to discover why. The cost of such a tunnel would have been high but the potential of linking the coal fields of South Durham with the iron industry of Middlesbrough would have made economic sense at the time.
    By 1875 the tunnel would have had to be redirected as the Scottish firm, Anderston’s had established a large foundry on the river front to the west of Port Clarence railway station .

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  10. Despite there being a community living at the Port Clarence end of the line no attempt was made in the early period of the railway to build an adequate railway station at Port Clarence. Reporters from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle who used the Port Clarence Branch line to visit Middlesbrough in the 1860’s gave equally disparaging descriptions of the station at Port Clarence.
    Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 4 September 1863 – ” The station house on the Port Clarence Railway looks like a dirty hamper picked out of the river and set up for a ticket office. The swamp in which the line terminates in has nothing poetic about it, around it or before it”.
    Newcastle Daily Chronicle – 8 March 1869 – “A correspondent calls attention to the Port Clarence station, which he informs me resembles a coal shed more than anything else”
    In the 1870’s the main employer at Port Clarence, the Clarence Iron Works, expanded rapidly and more houses were built for the workers. Finally in March 1883 a brick built railway station was opened at Port Clarence by the North Eastern Railway company, “to replace the dilapidated wooden erection which has done duty as a station for many years”. It had three waiting rooms catering for Gentleman First Class passengers, Ladies First Class passengers (each comfortably furnished) and a commodious General waiting room.
    Due to the overall working class nature of the Port Clarence population I don’t suppose the First Class waiting rooms were that well used.

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  11. What I find amazing is the height of the embankment that carried the Clarence Railway. It must have added considerably to the cost of building.

    But one see the same approach on the North Shore Branch of the Clarence Railway, east of Stockton. It seems to imply a huge drop from the Staithes for the loading of coal into the ships.

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    • I think the height of the embankment is as a flood defence. Both Haverton Hill and Port Clarence are situated on what was formerly a tidal marsh ( Port Clarence has been flooded in recent history and further flood defenses have been built ). Most of the Tees Valley, which includes Stockton, is located on low lying ground which was prone to flooding in exceptional weather.
      A lot of the land on the north side of the river Tees is land that was reclaimed by the Tees Conservancy Commissioners in the Victorian period.

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  12. In December 1904 the Billingham Junction to Port Clarence line held a unique position with regard to British railways.
    In this month the North Eastern Railway Company decided to withdraw the steam engine passenger service on the line and replace it with two petrol electric autocars. These would be the only self propelled vehicles of this type in operation on any railway in Great Britain. The autocars were similar in layout to a tram and could carry fifty passengers. It was stated that there was no First Class compartment, but the area was a working class one.
    The autocars had originally been introduced on the Scarborough to Filey line in the summer of 1904 but due to lack of passengers in the winter they were transferred to Teesside.

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    • The novelty of the Autocar service is illustrated in a story recounted by T. T. Jones, North Eastern Railway Goods Department, Port Clarence, and printed in the Northern Weekly Gazette, 14 January 1905.
      A lady took a ticket for a station a few miles distant on the Port Clarence and Billingham Branch and sat down to wait for the Passenger train coming. The Autocar arrived and was soon ready for the return journey. Still the passenger sat in the ladies waiting room, and saw it move out of the station. Shortly after one of the staff went and asked here where she was going, and told her the car had just gone. “car gone ?”.”Yes” replied the railway servant. “Well here I’ve been sitting for over one hour and thought that was an old coach” .
      The use of the Autocar at Port Clarence was short lived, by June 1905 the Steam passenger service was reinstated and the Autocar returned to the Scarborough and Filey line.

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  13. The Clarence Railway was conceived to carry coal from the Durham coal fields to the river Tees, where it could be shipped to London. The use of Port Clarence for this purpose was challenged in 1847 when the West Hartlepool Harbour and Dock opened. By 1850 nearly the whole of the Durham coal traffic was diverted off the Clarence Railway at Billingham junction and on to the Stockton & Hartlepool Railway, leading to the new docks at Hartlepool.
    This could have signalled the end of the Port Clarence Branch Line, but in 1854 Bell Brothers opened the Clarence Iron Works at Port Clarence. Bell Brothers were already established iron manufacturers at Wylam and Walker. In 1852 they gained a lease of iron deposits at Normanby from the Ward Jackson family. As part of the agreement the new iron works that Bell Brothers wanted to build adjoining the river Tees had to be sited close to the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company’s line (which was also one of Ward Jackson’s concerns). A site at Port Clarence just to the East of the present railway bridge was chosen. From this period to the 1930’s the Clarence Iron Works would be main user of the Port Clarence Branch Line.
    A report in the Northern Weekly Gazette, 25 October 1879, shows the scale of rail traffic on the line. Isaac Lowthian Bell stated that 750 tons of iron were made daily at the Port Clarence blast furnaces when at full work. This entailed the railway company delivering 3,750 tons of coke every day including Sunday. The company locomotives travelled over the works on elevated railways 40 or 50 feet high.
    The coke would have come on the Clarence line from the coke ovens at Bell Brother’s collieries at Page Bank, Browney and Tursdale. In addition to this Limestone from a quarry at Stanhope, leased by Bell Brothers, was also required and this was railed in via the Clarence line. The ironstone was brought from a wharf at Normanby on barges which were pulled across the river Tees by steamship.
    There is a photo of the Clarence Iron Works on the Picturestockton site which shows rail wagons on the elevated railways.

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    • In April 1924 the shipment of coal from Port Clarence was recommenced when Dorman Long opened a new coal bunkering plant there. Dorman long by this date had taken over the businesses of Bell Brothers (including the Clarence Iron and Works and there Durham coal mines).
      At present I do not have much history on this second venture into the exporting of coal from Port Clarence so I can’t say how successful it was and for how long the bunkering plant was in operation.

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  14. Just seeing those 2 pics sparked so many memories for me, I lived in Haverton Hill in the early 70’s and passed under them both many times…

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  15. Dear Sirs, When posting pictures in the Stockton Archive, it would be very interesting to have dates [years] photos were taken.  Perhaps, contributors could be asked to do this.  I appreciate it may not always be possible to date them. Best wishes from someone who enjoys the pics. Dave.

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  16. Both railway bridges have the builders name plates attached. The top photograph is of the bridge at Port Clarence and this could possibly be one of the oldest surviving iron bridges in the Stockton-on-Tees district. The name plate is damaged but a search of the internet brought up a possible candidate (Close Burlinson Engineering, Sunderland).
    Close Burlinson were iron founders and engineers and owned the Millfield Engine Works at Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland. The partnership between John Close and John Burlinson was dissolved in 1869 and the Millfield works were taken over by Messrs. Oswald, Engineers and Shipbuilders in the same year. This could mean the bridge dates from 1869 or earlier.
    The York Herald, 21 November 1868, reported that the North Eastern Railway had made an application to parliament to abandon part of the Port Clarence Branch Railway, East of the Port Clarence passenger station, on the Eastern side of a bridge that was being constructed. They also applied to substitute this portion of the line with one that would run on the Eastern side of the bridge in the direction of a farm house called Salt Holme. Consulting maps of the period place the present day bridge in this location.
    The bridge at Haverton Hill was manufactured by the Motherwell Bridge Company in 1922. It replaced an earlier bridge and was probably enlarged because Furness shipyard was here. Also the Billingham Beck Branch railway had opened nearby.

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  17. The Clarence Railway commenced operation in 1833. In 1834 a coal staith was opened at Haverton Hill followed by one at Samphire Batts (Port Clarence). As was common with a lot of early railway lines the company who owned it was beset by financial difficulties. In 1834 the management of the company was taken over by the Exchequer Loan Commissioners and managed from London. In the following decades the line was the subject of various take overs and mergers.

    1844 – Leased to the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway for 21 years.

    1851 – Stockton and Hartlepool Railway merged with the Hartlepool West Harbour & Dock.
    Became the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway in 1853.

    1865 – West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway merged with the North Eastern Railway. Became
    part of the North Eastern Railway.

    1923 – North Eastern Railway became the North Eastern area of the London and North Eastern
    Railway.

    The Port Clarence Branch Line had a stations at Haverton Hill and Port Clarence. The Port Clarence station closed to passengers in 1939. Passenger services to Haverton Hill were withdrawn in 1954. A workmans service continued to a halt on Belasis Lane, Billingham until November 1961.
    Until recently the line was used by Petroplus and later Geenergy Fuels Ltd. Who ran an infrequent collections of fuel tankers from a storage facility at Port Clarence.

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    • In the early days of this line locomotives were only used to pull mineral traffic (coal and limestone). Up until 1860 the passenger service was pulled by horse.

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  18. The Haverton Hill Road bridge has such wide supporting walls as they once supported the Haverton Hill railway station buildings and platforms.
    https://picturestocktonarchive.com/2003/09/13/haverton-hill-railway-station-1961/
    https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW030442
    I tried to read the manufacturer’s plate on Google Streetview, but could only get Motherwell, and maybe 1922?
    The current steel bridge must have replaced the earlier bridge & station seen here:
    https://picturestocktonarchive.com/2012/11/29/haverton-hill-railway-station/

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  19. I think that the Port Clarence line is mothballed? It goes on over Seal Sands deep into the chemical complex with a long siding to Greatham Creek. Another obscure line around there which is used in the Nuclear Power Station branch near Seaton Carew which is used to take waste to Sellafield and as I recall has a north facing junction onto the Durham Coast Line.

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